2019 update: Optimising your website structure is still as important now as when we first published this article back in 2016 (yikes!). So we thought we'd bring this back to your attention.
If you’re new to the World of technical SEO, you may be surprised to learn that your website’s page structure (also known as the navigation or menu) can have a big impact on its presence in Google.
Ensuring a good site structure can also help you to provide a better user experience. As a species, we crave cognitive equilibrium; being able to put pieces together logically and find things where they are expected to be found. Thus, a carefully considered and logical site structure can be extremely cognitively satisfying.
And if your users are happy, Google will be happy. Making your website more appealing to the end user will increase click through rates and dwell time, while reducing bounce rates and encouraging conversions – all of which can help to boost your Google PageRank.
Yet when it comes to commissioning a new website (or redesigning an existing one), site structures are often overlooked or not considered carefully enough. So in today’s post, we’re going to look at the ways in which you can enhance your website’s structure, and get it working in line with the rest of your SEO strategy.
If you already own a website and are planning an overhaul, it’s a good idea to identify why people visit your website before you start making any changes to its structure.
If your website is linked with Google Analytics (or any other web analytics service), we recommend you use it find out the following:
- The search terms that brought visitors to your site: While it’s not as in depth as it once was (find out why), the information in Google Analytics’ keyword report can still give you an insight into the words/phrases being searched by your potential customers. If you can see that they’ve been searching for specific products and services, it’s a good idea to make these as easily accessible as possible by fitting them into or hinting at them in your top-level navigation.
- Internal search phrases: Onsite search is often ignored completely, which makes little sense as it enables your customers to locate and potentially buy products/services much more easily. Research shows that users who use onsite search tools have a clear intent to purchase and are much more likely to convert than the average user. And what’s more, most on-site search facilities will log entries, allowing you to go back and analyse your most searched for products and services, and whether or not they need to be made more obvious in your navigation.
- The pages that get the most traffic: Are these the pages you want to continue to get the most traffic? If not, are there similar, more targeted pages that you could steer people to? Bear this in mind when building your nav.
- Your top exit pages: If most people leave your website on the “Contact Us” or “Directions/Find Us” page, this suggests that they’ve found what they were looking for and are now planning on getting in touch, so consider adding these pages to your top-level navigation. If people are leaving the site on a service or product page, this might suggest that they lost interest, or didn’t find what they were looking for. In this case, maybe it’s time to revisit the content?
Organise Your Structure
If you’re building a website from scratch and unsure how best to divide your content into sections, usability experts recommend “card sorting”; an exercise which will help you to categorise your webpages by identifying how and where your visitors would expect to find content.
Write down all the products and services you offer onto individual cards and lay them out in front of you. Then start clustering together all similar elements into groups (keeping in mind that some products/services may fit into more than one group).
Before long (depending on the size of your business and product/service offering!) these groups will begin to form the basis of your website’s top tier navigation. The products/services within each will be your second-tier dropdowns.
Optimise with Keywords
In our recent series of SEO tips, we recommend bringing your content in line with the related Google searches by dropping in your most relevant keywords wherever possible (and where appropriate). Your page names, which form the basis of your website’s navigation structure, are an important element of on-page SEO, and should be optimised in the same way.
Once you’ve identified the parts of your business that warrant their own pages on your website, consult Google’s Keyword Planner tool to find out how best to name them. While you may want to use the words/phrases with the highest search frequencies, you must also consider your human audience; what will make sense to them? It won’t matter how much traffic your website generates if it is difficult for the end user to navigate. All this will do is cause them to bounce and render them unlikely to convert. And while we recommend optimising your page names with keywords, as always it is of utmost importance to avoid looking spammy (repeating the same keyword/keyword variations in all of your page names).
If you’ve ever had to manually type out a URL laden with letters, numbers, forward slashes, back slashes, question marks, ampersands, percent signs, dots, dashes and underscores, you’ll understand the importance of this one. Not only are these types of URL (dynamic URLs) difficult for you to read and remember, search engines have a hard time ranking them in a usable format.
While most content management systems (CMS) now handle easy to read, user-friendly “static” URLs, “dynamic” URLs are still commonly used in eCommerce platforms. This is because the site content is stored in a database and pulled for display on demand.
Example static URL: www.example.com/products/example-product
Example dynamic URL: www.example.com/index.php?route=product_id=55&search=example
There are ways in which you can make your dynamic URLs appear static, however in recent years Google has made progress in crawling and analysing dynamic URLs, and now advises against doing so.
Having said that, if you can avoid using dynamic URLs from the outset (e.g. if your website is not database driven) it is preferable to do so; static URLs are easier to read, and therefore have a slight advantage in terms of click through rates.
Hierarchical URL Slugs
If your webpages are categorised into a series of dropdowns, their URL slugs (the exact address of a web page on your site) should follow the same hierarchy. This helps your users to understand where they are in your site, and, if all of your page names are optimised with keywords, optimise URLs even further for search.
In the example below, notice how the URL in the browser’s address bar follows the same path as the links in the navigation?
Be Descriptive with Page Names
Internet users are now more impatient than ever, so when a potential customer visits your website, you need to communicate your products/services instantly – before they decide you can’t provide what they’re looking for. In order to do so, you need to be descriptive with your page names, especially those in your website’s top tier.
Ironically, labels like “What We Do” don’t tell the user anything about what you actually do. “Products” and “Services” are also too generic as they can be applied to any type of business. You need to be much more specific than that.
If you run a dog grooming service for example, instead of “Services”, why not try “Dog Grooming Services” or “Pet Care”? That will also make it easier for you to add your keywords into your menu and URLs.
Optimising your website structure is a massive part of technical SEO, and as a result there is so much to cover! We’re not quite ready to wrap this topic up yet, so keep your eyes peeled on the MAD4 blog where we’ll be publishing Part 2 very soon.